Heart: The Key to Resiliency in Leadership

Welcome back! I know it’s been a while since I’ve written, but after some reading, studying, and experiencing, I’m ready to start sharing my learning publicly again. The more I read and do, the more I’m reminded of how entangled we all are–within the self and between our selves. Whether it’s a multi-faceted project or a or a dynamic team, when we change one piece, it has an affect on all the other pieces, either directly or indirectly. This bodes well for our role as leaders because all we can truly control is ourselves, but by making some smart choices, we can have a profound impact on our teams and how we develop resiliency through the inherent challenges of our work.

For me, this starts by leading with heart.

On the surface, leading with heart can be perceived as a softer topic, something fluffy or even unimportant. Because of these assumptions, I do not always tell people that the second year of my master’s program is focused on leading with heart, for fear that my studies won’t be taken seriously. Or worse, that I won’t be taken seriously. The reality is that studying and practising heart-based leadership has been the most rigorous and challenging work of my life, because it necessitates consistent uncovering of who I am, what I stand for, and how I will act in response to these understandings.

” … people desperately want to be part of something, and they want to experience profound connection with others, but they don’t want to sacrifice their authenticity, freedom, or power to do it.”

Bréne Brown

While leadership must include continual looking inward, one cannot stop there; leaders need to get clear about the ways that their ‘self’ engages with the people and organizations with which they work. Brown (2018) attests that “people desperately want to be part of something, and they want to experience profound connection with others, but they don’t want to sacrifice their authenticity, freedom, or power to do it” (p. 107).  Therefore, a leader must continually negotiate and understand the reciprocal relationship between their own well-being and success to the well-being and success of the people and teams they are leading.

But complex organizations are only made more so by the humans that bring them to life.

Building in some heart-based practices creates a solid foundation from which to manage the ambiguity and complexity of human beings, meeting deadlines, and completing tough projects. This foundation starts with building connections with the people, through good questions and conversations. For me, once I understand a person, I am better able to coach in a way that works for both of us. At the same time, we need to establish the right conditions for people to reveal and be their true selves.  One of the ways I do this is by being willing to be imperfect, an inherent part of us as human beings—one that is not always accepted or acknowledged.  As leaders, our job is to support people’s ability to improve and change by being vulnerable enough to admit our own challenges.  We are responsible for setting the stage for developing reflective practices. Finally, a willingness to grow must come with an acceptance of failure, and if we’re doing anything innovative—in our projects or the development of workplace culture—we must expect and respect failure.  The more people are willing to open their hearts to the risk of failure, the more chances of success they bring to the team.

Failure is what requires us to understand how to sustain a practice of leading with heart. We will fail. It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when. It’s never easy, but leading with heart reminds us that failure is something we have in common, something that should connect us, rather than drive us apart. We must learn to treat ourselves and others with compassion in the process of getting up. It seems counterintuitive, but developing resilience and sustainability as a requires us to focus on success.  Hanson and Hanson (2018) explain that “as you internalize experiences of well-being, that builds inner strengths which in turn make you more resilient. Well-being and resilience promote each other in an upward spiral” (p. 2).  Therefore, while we must prepare for failure, we must implement practices that allow our teams to focus on our successes and invest time discussing, documenting, and thinking about the good work we do.

Sustaining leadership with heart means consistently choosing to be strong enough to be who you are, soft enough to accept that in others, and wild enough to imagine the impossible.

“Strong back, soft front, wild heart.”

Bréne Brown

Brown, B. (2018). Dare to lead, daring greatly and rising strong at work. Random House, New York.

Hanson, R. (2018). Resilient: How to grow an unshakable core of calm, strength, and happiness. New York, NY: Harmony Books.